hands working on a broken pipe underground

Stay Safe Underground: 5 Essential Occupational Safety Tips for Plumbers

Discover five occupational safety tips for plumbers working on underground pipe repairs.

One of the most dangerous jobs in plumbing is working below ground. While both excavation and trenching are necessary when working with underground pipes, they also come with many risks to workers that can result in serious injuries and even death.

According to OSHA, “Excavation and trenching are among the most hazardous construction operations.” Despite these risks, this work can be done safely. In this article, we will discuss the five steps needed to create a safe work site when digging and trenching.

Here is a brief outline we’ll explore in more detail:

Professionals. Competent safety professionals are necessary to assess risks and establish a safety plan for each job.

Planning. Before a plan can be implemented, a thorough assessment of the specific risks and hazards must be made.

Procedures. Establish safety procedures that are included in the job layout to ensure a safe work site.

Proactive communication. Communicate the safety requirements to all workers and emphasize the importance of compliance.

Planning for emergencies. Establish an emergency plan for any unforeseen accidents.

Understanding Proper Procedures for Underground Plumbing Repairs

Establishing a safe work site can only be done by professionals with a working knowledge of industry standards for safety. OSHA refers to this individual as a competent person.

There are various certification programs available that will provide the necessary knowledge for ensuring a safe work site. These programs are beneficial for both workers and managers.

For all underground work, safety procedures must comply with local laws and all industry standards to ensure a safe work environment. This is the responsibility of both management and workers alike.

Something to consider when assessing safe procedures is exploring new methods for underground work that don't require digging or trenching. One of these newer technologies is trenchless sewer repair, which provides a safer alternative for repairing underground pipes without the need for excavation.

Key takeaway. Safety professionals and compliance managers must take all necessary precautions to protect their workers from potential risks when working underground. This can only be done by professionals with a working knowledge of industry standards for safety.

Identifying Common Risks of Underground Plumbing

Identifying the risks involved with underground work will allow you to establish industry safety standards for your underground work sites. Creating a safety checklist will help with this process.

Here are some of the risks when working underground:

  • Trench collapses and cave-ins (the cause of most fatalities)
  • Trips and falls
  • Exposure to hazardous materials such as lead, asbestos and other chemicals and toxins
  • Electrical shock from high voltage lines and improperly grounded equipment
  • Workers not trained in safety standards
  • Not having the proper safety equipment on site.

The possibility of cave-ins is very high when excavating. This can be due to soil instability, improper shoring techniques, weather conditions and more. These accidents often lead to fatalities and work accidents.

Another serious risk comes from hazardous materials in a confined area, along with harmful gasses which could cause serious injury or death without proper ventilation systems or adequate PPE.

There must be a thorough inspection of nearby utility lines in the excavation area. “Call before you dig” is the best way to establish where these existing lines are located.

Poorly trained personnel can increase the likelihood of accidents occurring on excavation sites. It is essential for safety professionals and compliance managers to ensure that everyone working on underground plumbing projects receives adequate training to mitigate potential risks.

Equipping personnel with the proper tools, equipment and emergency response plans can help ensure a safe working environment for underground plumbing projects.

Refer to OSHA’s “Trenching and Excavation Safety” (OSHA 2226-10R 2015) for more specific information on work site safety when working underground.

While safety for everyone on the work site is the main goal, it is not only a worker safety issue. A company’s “bottom line” is also at risk. Significant fines can be imposed when these safety procedures are not implemented. It also puts the company at great legal risk if an accident should occur that was otherwise preventable.

Once these risk assessments are complete, they can be used to create and implement safety protocols.

Key takeaway. To ensure a safe and successful underground plumbing project, you must take all safety protocols seriously. In other words, no cutting corners.

Implementing Protective Measures for Underground Plumbing

Based upon the risks that have been identified, you can begin putting safety practices in with the overall job layout:

  • Requiring appropriate PPE such as gloves, goggles, hard hats and steel-toed boots
  • Establishing barricades around the work area
  • Ensuring adequate lighting is present
  • Keeping tools properly maintained and routinely inspected
  • Devising emergency response plans should something go wrong
  • Providing regular training sessions for employees about safe work practices
  • Conducting frequent inspections of the worksite for signs of instability or damage caused by weather conditions like heavy downpours or heavy equipment used onsite

These safety practices are only effective if you take the time to train all plumbing workers on these safety protocols before beginning a project.

The workers should have ready access to PPE such as gloves, eye protection, and hard hats. In addition, there should be a site manager who oversees all of the safety practices.

By taking the proper precautions beforehand and being prepared for worst-case scenarios, professionals can make sure their job sites remain safe at all times.

Key takeaway. Onsite workers should take all necessary precautions to ensure their safety when working on underground plumbing projects. This starts with a plan that establishes industry safety standards for each job.

Adhering to Safety Protocols for Underground Plumbing

Employers must ensure all onsite plumbers follow the established safety procedures. Failure to do so can incur hefty fines from regulatory bodies responsible for enforcing workplace health and safety standards.

This should be done by the “competent person” conducting site inspections during the length of the job. This person should have the authority to implement and enforce all safety measures.

As unforeseen risks are always a possibility, it’s also important to have an emergency response plan in place.

Key takeaway. Onsite workers must follow all safety protocols while working underground. It is the responsibility of the company to make sure all personnel comply with safety regulations at the worksite.

Emergency Response Plan

Emergency response plans are essential for underground plumbing projects. They provide a framework to follow in the event of any unforeseen accident, allowing safety professionals and compliance managers to act quickly and decisively. The emergency response plan should outline steps that can be taken if a plumbing accident occurs onsite. The plan should also specify how workers will be evacuated from the area in the event of a major incident such as fire or flooding.

Key takeaway. As no one can foresee all possible dangers, it is important to have an emergency response plan in place. 

Final Thoughts

As we have shown, you can have a safe environment when plumbers are working underground or repairing pipes. You have to be proactive and consider the safety procedures as part of the overall job layout.

By understanding proper procedures, assessing potential dangers, implementing protective measures and adhering to safety protocols, you will protect your bottom line while protecting everyone on the job.

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